DESIGNER LEAF – Pattern, Line, Contrast

Students create a design of various patterns and colours by painting on a leaf that has been preserved with glycerin. An idea submitted by Chandni Ganesh who did this activity with her class at MacLeod's Landing Public School in York Region, Ontario.

Required Time

80 Minutes

Grade Level

Grade 3 to Grade 8


Language Arts
Visual Arts


contrast harmony line pattern shape


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DESIGNER LEAF – Pattern, Line, Contrast - Step One

Step One


  1. One week before you begin paint both sides of the leaf with a thin coat of glycerin. (Glycerin can be purchased in a pharmacy or the food section of many grocery stores.)
  2. Let the leaf dry for a week.
  3. Pat the leaf with paper towel before you start to paint it.
DESIGNER LEAF – Pattern, Line, Contrast - Step Two

Step Two

  1. Trace your leaf onto a page of your sketchbook.
  2. Make a plan drawing of your design.
  3. Make sure to include lots of different patterns.


DESIGNER LEAF – Pattern, Line, Contrast - Step Three

Step Three

  1. Paint directly on the leaf.
  2. Allow the paint to dry between coats.
DESIGNER LEAF – Pattern, Line, Contrast - Step Four

Step Four

  1. Place a few drops of glue on the back of the leaf.
  2. Glue it to a piece of black construction paper.
  3. Do not glue the edges of the leaf down flat.
  4. Notice the shadows cast by the leaf.

Learning Goals

Students will be able to:

  • create a design that moves the eye around and through the whole leaf;
  • repeat lines and shapes to create patterns;
  • identify and use contrasting colours;
  • demonstrate technical accomplishment and creativity;
  • support their ideas with evidence found in the artworks.


Have students:

  • write about their leaf in a genre they are studying, e.g., science fiction; fantasy; tall tale; mystery;
  • create a digital book using an image of their leaf and any others they want to create;
  • share their book with their peers.


  1. Prior to this lesson have students explore pattern using the Patterns worksheet available on this website.
  2. Download and display the Line, Repetition and Contrast posters available on this website.
  3. Teach or review the principles of repetition and contrast, and the element of line.
  4. Have students bring in a leaf they have found, or gather a variety of fall leaves.
  5. One week before you want to paint, preserve the leaves with glycerin. You can either have each student paint a thin coat of glycerin on their own leaf and let it dry for 6 days, or preserve a batch of leaves using the following process:
    - mix 1 cup glycerin with 2 cups water in a container such as a Pyrex baking dish
    - place the leaves in the container
    - make sure they are all lightly covered with the liquid
    - place a slightly smaller container on top of the leaves to make sure they are completely submerged
    - leave them for 6 days
    - remove the leaves and pat them dry with a paper towel


  1. Review patterns and the design vocabulary they used in the worksheet.
    pattern is the arrangement of shapes or elements according to a set of rules
    - design vocabulary for making patterns includes loops, circles, spirals, crossed lines, teardrops, squiggles, waves, right angles, dots
  2. Have students select one of the preserved leaves.
  3. Introduce the challenge.


The Challenge

  1. Create a design that moves your eye around and through the whole leaf.
  2. Repeat lines and shapes to create patterns.
  3. Identify and use contrasting colours.
  4. Demonstrate technical accomplishment and creativity.
  5. Support your ideas with evidence found in the artworks.

The Process

  1. Ensure that everyone understands the challenge.
  2. Establish success criteria with your students, for example,
    I know I am successful when I have:
    - used my own ideas
    repeated lines to make patterns 
    - repeated shapes to make patterns
    - used contrasting colours

    - created a balanced design that moves your eye through the whole leaf
    - kept the leaf in good condition
    - painted thoughtfully
  3. Guide students through the steps outlined in this lesson plan.
  4. Observe students as they work.
  5. Provide individual assistance and encouragement.


  1. Once all the leaves are complete display them for a group discussion. 
    Look closely at the designs.
    - Choose one that interests you for some reason.
    - Share thoughts about the work.
  2. During the discussion include references to:
    - pattern – How are the patterns different? How are they similar? How do they create a path for the eye to follow through the whole design?
    - contrast – How does the use of contrasting colours contribute to the overall design?

    - technical accomplishment – How does careful painting contribute to the overall effectiveness of the design?


  1. Observe students as they work – thoughtful focus, discriminating, seeking more information, elaborating, experimenting.
  2. Observe students as they discuss their artworks – speaks with a clear voice, looks at audience while speaking, points to areas in the work, provides accurate information, answers questions from the audience effectively.
  3. Observe students as they listen – looks at presenter, asks effective questions, supports ideas with evidence found in the artwork.
  4. Use a checklist to track progress. (Downloads - DesignerLeaf_tracking.pdf)
  5. Have students use the self-assessment form to evaluate their work. (Downloads - DesignerLeaf_self-assessment or DesignerLeaf-Primary_self-assessment.pdf)